4 disadvantages of the grapevine and when to use IM to talk to employees

You can't stop people from participating in the grapevine, but you *can* have more control over how your teams communicate. Here's how.

The American Management Association estimates that 70 percent of all organizational communication originates from casual, 'grapevine' communication.  In this post, we're going to look at this informal side of workplace communication and highlight some ways you can curb any negative impact.

What is the grapevine?

If you know the Marvin Gaye song but were never sure what it meant, allow us to illuminate you. The 'grapevine' is a type of informal communication where people share information outside of traditional, policy-bound workplace conversation.

Grapevine communication is usually between co-workers in a social setting. That might be on lunch or water-cooler breaks, in a bar for after-work drinks (remember those?), carpooling on their way home or via informal messaging apps. If communication comes 'through the grapevine', it usually means that there is no paper trail, and that information may be misleading or skewed in some way.

Here are four disadvantages of grapevine communication you need to look out for.

1. Miscommunication

When sharing unverified information informally, it can snowball and become even more impactful and untrustworthy. Messages are often exaggerated to make stories more exciting. This then leads to misunderstandings among employees and your business.

The Economist Intelligence Unit and Lucidchart found that workplace miscommunication leads to:

  • Higher stress levels
  • Delay or failure to complete projects  
  • Low morale
  • Missed performance goals
  • Lost sales

Providing credible and accessible information can help you to wipe out opportunities for miscommunication. The archivable information-sharing of instant messaging makes it possible to keep track of what's been said, and to back it up with relevant documents. It's crucial to promote clear communication through your internal comms channels.

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2. Hindered productivity

If you don't have an internal communication policy and strategy, it's difficult to align staff with your business goals. Employees may have a different understanding of your company culture, ethics or values than you'd like them to.

These communication barriers can result in employees not knowing how their work impacts the business. This then negatively impacts on your workplace productivity and your company's success. The Grossman Group reports that a cumulative cost per-worker per-year due to productivity losses from communications barriers is $26,041.

Removing those barriers is a matter of creating a strong internal comms policy, and adopting multi-media communication platforms. Create open, meaningful communication channels with your staff, and you'll reduce the risk of confusion.

3. Ephemeral messaging

Grapevine information is usually undocumented. Employees often hear or remember only parts of the messages - thus making them ephemeral. It's easy to forget important conversations, which then get lost in the ether.

Teams waste time trying to reiterate the points lost in grapevine communication. Even worse, the conversations often aren't revisited and work is inefficient as a result. Communication platforms that allow you to keep track of conversations - whether that's in the aforementioned searchable archive or via recorded video calls - are a must.

4. Damaged company reputation

If communication formats are inconsistent, employees may lose trust in their employers and leaders. As trust is crucial for employees’ experience and productivity, it's important to address grapevine communication wherever possible.

You can use IM for business to bolster your company's reputation. It allows you to repeat important messages, opens the floor for discussion and debate, and encourages consistency of communication.

Taking advantage of informal communication

You can't avoid informal communication completely, but you can hone it and have more control over where it takes place. Adopting secure IM as part of your comms strategy can help you to avoid staff participation in the more difficult-to-control forms of grapevine conversations. It will allow you to provide an outlet where employees feel it's safe to communicate.

Your staff and business can benefit from organized informal communication when you provide the internal platforms needed to host more relaxed workplace chats.

Cerulean - the ultimate communication security policy checklist



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